Sunday, November 25, 2007

Two Weeks of Exercise Boot Camp

I JUST COMPLETED TWO solid weeks of gym attendance. Seven days per week. Four days of weights, three of cardiovascular-machine work. A fortnight of fitness.

In October, I had been hitting a rut — progress had slowed, and my home nutrition was shaky. By early November, after missing 5 days to dodge a cold, and ending up feeling like shit due to nonattendance, I took a solid look at my gym routine to see if it was part of the problem.

I concluded that it was. My three-day split was not making things any easier. By split I mean the division of exercises for different body regions over a training period. I had been doing back and biceps on the first day, legs and shoulders the second, and chest and triceps the third. Abs got in there every two days . . . usually.

Not a bad arrangement, but I was wasting a lot of time with more exercise movements per body part than I really needed. I was doing two movements for my chest (dumbbell press and pectoral-fly machine) but three for my shoulders, and six for my legs. The legs/shoulders day felt like a deathmarch as a result, and the chest/triceps day left me wondering if I'd actually done any work at all. Plus I was doing very little cardio work aside from 10 minutes of warmup before hitting the iron.

In mid-November, with about 6 weeks of potentially unhealthful food pouring into the office, and Thanksgiving, my party, and Christmas looming, I decided I needed to simplify that weight-training schedule while stepping up the cardio. I dropped back to only a few motions per region (my legs were most appreciative), made my abdominal exercises part of two specific days on the calendar, and simplified the whole affair by deciding to make every day a gym day:

SAT: Abdominals and cardio (30 minutes elliptical)
SUN: Cardio (20 min each of treadmill, elliptical, and ski machine, in whatever order)
MON: 10 min cardio warmup; back (3 exercises, 3 sets each) and chest (2 exercises, 3 sets each)
TUES: 10 min cardio warmup; legs (3 exercises, 3 sets each) and shoulders (2 exercises, 3 sets each)
WED: Abdominals and cardio (30 minutes elliptical)
THURS: 10 min cardio warmup; back (3 exercises, 3 sets each) and chest (2 exercises, 3 sets each)
FRI: 10 min cardio warmup; legs (3 exercises, 3 sets each) and shoulders (2 exercises, 3 sets each)

This schedule also offers me the flexibility to switch the two consecutive cardio days with the single one in the middle of the week, or to skip one of them, in case I feel like I'm verging on overtraining (which stems from not giving muscles sufficient time to recover between workouts).

Combining this with proper nutrition at home is critical, as I've found that to be the real barrier to progress. Avoiding spare Halloween candy at work is enough of a pain. Sidetracking myself with a crappy dinner is terrible, though. If I can hold to this discipline, I will shake off the negative effects of the holidays, build stamina for putting the party together (last year I was in awful shape heading into the party, and nearly fell asleep halfway through the actual event from exhaustion), and keep my immune system vibrant as cold season flares in full.

A bonus: The workplace has a positive attitude toward employee health. They're hosting a health assessment 2 weeks from now, with tests for bodyfat percentage (I hope they bring the big calipers), blood sugar, and nonfasting cholesterol. Participants get gift cards and can win iPods. Better still, they might be considering some reimbursement for gym fees, and they claim that any net savings in employee healthcare costs as a factor of our combined efforts will come back to us in some fashion. This is on top of offering free flu shots in early November, something the management at my last job unwisely neglected to do.

My target arrival time has been first thing in the morning on weekdays and Saturdays. During my joblessness, I had made 3 p.m. my target time, which worked great. The gym was sparsely populated, teens were still in school and not dawdling on the equipment (which happens at night), and plenty of parking. When the weather was nice, I could even walk it. The only thing to slow me down now has been the need to defrost my car. On Saturdays, the place is jammed at all times except at the open and the last couple of hours, at which point I'm usually doing chores on the road someplace. As for Sundays, with only cardio scheduled, I can get there in time for the 1:00 football game and find whichever machine I want.

One side effect of my efforts has been skipping poker night. This is possibly worth a full post, but lately the host down in Maywood has been having trouble assembling a full table. Successive losses have sidelined some of our regulars, and some folks can only arrive after 11:00 or so. I can't stay that late any more. During the last four months of my previous job and the next three on the bricks, it was easier to attend and play through 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. Now, with a job I care about, and a morning training routine I feel is more important, I have cut way back on both my attendance and how late I stay when I go. I've learned to leave after my attention flags — a key skill when in Vegas, land of a million distractions — or when certain players leave for the night, taking their easier money with them, and are replaced by stronger poker talents. So between the occasional no-show night when the host cancels, and my more selective attendance, I've freed up time for the all-important sleep that I need to let muscles heal.

I'm proud to have completed two full weeks on this new schedule, but I have a very long way to go. It can't just be through the end of the year; it's got to be for life. Creating a more flexible, yet more easily followed, schedule of activity is one step. Minding all of the other factors contributing to fitness is the biggie. I'm tracking my progress in a notebook, along with commentary on how much weight I might be able to add next time, quality of reps, etc., so these individual workouts don't exist in a void. I may never fit into size 34 pants again, but I can keep my heart healthy, my bones and joints strong and young, and my mind clear. And maybe when I do get back out to Vegas next year, I'll fill less of the plane seat. At least on the trip out. The buffets out there play havoc with the acreage of my ass.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Winter Offers a Fleeting Preview

IF YOU RECKON THE beginning of winter from the first snowfall, and you live in New Jersey, then today you noted the change of seasons. I awoke to fat, wet flakes fluttering down gently. No accumulation, I noted as I exited to the car on the way to the gym; just a wet street and lawn.

By the time I was heading to work, however, the pace had picked up, and the snow was now slanting down at a sharp angle to the ground. Driving through it was like streaking through space at high warp, the flakes only lacking blueshift. The streets were still wet, not covered, but snow was beginning to cling to trees, parked cars, and grass.

As I approached my office, which entails an ascent of a hundred feet or so in elevation, I was confronted by a fairy-land spectacle of frosted trees. Red and yellow leaves, still in the full blaze of fall, appeared dusted with powdered sugar. The sky above my company's parking lot was a blank off-white, and judging by the full-throttle siege of flakes, the ground seemed in danger of finally yielding to the influx of snow and building up a white, wet layer. I regretted not having a digital camera sharp enough to capture the fine brushstrokes of snow along the trees bracketing the parking lot. I took one last long look, then entered to face the first workday of the week.

A camera would have been helpful. By 2 p.m., every trace of frozen water was gone. The trees had reasserted their colors, the grass had absorbed its drapery of particulate ice, and all that lay on the parking lot were a couple of puddles. The only way I would've convinced a new arrival to the area of the previous spectacle would've been either a photo or spirited debate.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Catching up With the Week

A MIXED WEEK THIS was, the last before the final plunge into the holiday season. The week ahead, though truncated, might be even crazier, at least until I go home on Wednesday night . . . which might not be at 5:00. But first, this week.

On Monday and Tuesday, the managing editor (who works in another office) was in our department. She greeted me Monday morning by asking me to write another whole column for the December issue, which is supposed to go to press on 11/20. The issue was already running late, partially due to her; she made some requests on a nearly completed article, queries of a frankly passive and paranoid nature, and requested that the PR department of the institution mentioned in the article review it. This set off a mini-mutiny in the department, but it typifies the very tentative approach our boss takes in making decisions or trying to change things at the 11th hour. It's one of the few negatives of the job, but insofar as she's otherwise a pleasant person who can be swayed by reason, it's mitigated somewhat. Still, there are limits. But adding a new column that late wasn't one of them; I'd come to expect it.

For the next two days, I was fiercely busy at work, mostly writing, which I enjoyed. Autumn weather also returned, with chill nights and gemlike skies of pure blue. The trees in my workplace's parking lot blazed in the sun like raging gas fires. We had a company Thanksgiving lunch Tuesday, an actual catered turkey dinner but at midday. The company also ran a side-dish and dessert competition, so we had a wide variety of both to choose from. The rest of that day was a bit of a blur, though my progress list did have other stuff I'd written on it in a tryptophan-and-sugar-induced coma. That evening, I went with Steve and Jen to a local pizza/Italian joint for dinner. This wasn't one of those weeks that showed a net drop in weight, as you might imagine.

On Wednesday, despite my immediate boss splitting time between the December issue and a year-end special publication that she'd gotten at the last minute from our managing editor, we seemed to be making headway. Then one of the group who works on the magazine announced she'd be quitting at the end of the month. This detonated like a bomb that leaves buildings intact but destroys motivation. The employee in question is a former professional in the field the magazine covers, so her input into content-heavy articles is critical. She is also able to explain complex concepts in that field to the rest of us in accessible English. She writes our editorials, and her experience helped us connect directly with our readers in ways the rest of us might not. Worse, she is an absolute blast to work with. But she'd been butting heads with the managing editor, including a couple of times recently when said supervisor took issue with pathetically ridiculous minutiae. With several of our former colleagues working at local publishers in our field, our coworker cast her eye around, found a better option to the one she faced under this regime, and gave notice.

So this cast a pall over the rest of the week. The department had been under full strength before this year, after my predecessor left in the early spring, and I'm told those three months before my arrival were hellish. (Not that I'm Superman, but even a thoroughly new trainee doing some of the basic labor would've been preferable to folks doubling up on duties as they were during that stretch.) Getting email from my managing editor, the immediate cause of the problem, was difficult, as was replying civilly . . . especially, as is typical, when the requests had nothing at all to do with completing the December issue.

But Wednesday and Thursday were otherwise writing days — again, among my favorites. I felt a cold command of the various projects, as I did when I regularly typeset a complex, table-heavy accounting newsletter in 48 hours back at the salt mine. Priorities were clear. Tools were readily available. Distractions melted away. On Thursday night, I put in a half-evening at the regular poker game. I should note that I had hit the gym every day this week since the previous Saturday, and I am convinced that this physical devotion kept my mood and energy up to the level the week's chaos would demand. Only playing until 11:00 was part of this fitness drive, because I wanted to hit the gym Friday morning. Although I lost two buy-ins (ran high pocket pairs into AA twice, goodnight!), I rode home with a high spirit; I'd dodged a couple of dangerous traps, too, something I wasn't capable of this time last year.

I did indeed go to the gym on Friday morning, and I erased one more item from my to-do list at work. Then I grappled with the column my boss had told me on Monday to slip into this issue . . . and I screeched to a brake-locking halt. This column is best written over the course of the month leading up to deadline, not the week; it comprises small items harvested from various Web sources, which were not yielding their usual bushels of fruit when shaken. I spent much of the day trying not to grow more frustrated than the task warranted by wrapping the stress of my coworker's reasons for departure up with this current challenge, but by lunchtime, it was too much. Even at the best job, one needs to get the hell out now and again. So I bailed for a local Chinese joint and sank into some Empress Chicken and a book on investing for an hour, bookended by leisurely drives beneath wind-buffeted trees and swirling storms of gorgeous leaves. In sum, quite therapeutic.

My boss and I already have accepted that this book will be late, primarily due to our boss's tampering. So when I returned to the office, I set the troublesome task aside and concentrated on another item I had to write (which by its nature goes in last minute anyway, so now was the time). Just to keep my hand moving in the Natalie Goldberg sense. It worked, and in fact I was able to pull in a lot of material for the January issue. I feel if we can get back to setting these issues up a lot earlier than we currently are, we'll be able to negotiate around the tendency of the managing editor to tinker with things and greatly offset the schedules. That might have to wait until we have a full crew again. Busy winter, this may turn out to be. At least it's an employed one. And as the soon-to-depart employee confided in me, "You're gonna have no problem. We know a lot of people in this industry. You're in." Hopefully not something I need immediately, but I did give her my personal email address so we can stay in touch.

Still, this last day of the week wasn't without further twists. The managing editor has been paranoid about licensing, and she sent a letter requesting rights to run a chart to one of our story sources for the December issue. The source freaked out and denied us permission to run the chart. For this article, it subtracts the same sort of structure as removing the actual road from the George Washington Bridge might. The group's artist had already scanned, retouched, and placed this piece, amid laying out the year-end publication ensnaring my boss — in essence, he was doing two issues this month. He was blissfully unaware of this, having taken Friday off. I dread his reaction upon arrival tomorrow.

By Friday night, I was looking forward to an idle weekend. Or at least a weekend that followed my own schedule, which I had in spades. I needed to begin prepping for a Christmas party next month. I also had to grab a gift and card for my mother's birthday today. The day went well. I hit the gym shortly after the opening and had a fine 30-minute stroll on the elliptical trainer and hit my abs (or at least the region of my abs, which are in there somewhere, I suspect). Chores went well and were limited to my town, which at least afforded me the privilege of walking through the chill fall air to get them done. I headed down to the Edgewater Whole Foods to secure a box of Seventh Generation dishwashing powder with one of several coupons kindly provided by their customer relations point person.

New York City lies just across the river from that Whole Foods location, and I sat for a while regarding the apartments of the Upper West Side, Columbia University, and, more distant, the rise of Midtown's skyscrapers. I do miss working there, even if I understand how much the commute took out of my daily life. Fortunately, tourism has become considerably easier: New Jersey Transit now runs more trains to Secaucus and Hoboken on our local line, not only on weekends, but inbound late on weekdays. Now catching a weekend show or attending an evening event doesn't require negotiating rush-hour traffic to get to Hoboken, and then the accompanying parking nightmare . . . just catch the late train on a weekday, or any of them on the weekend, and you're all set. I'm still getting used to hearing trains pass my window on Saturdays and Sundays, but I'm sure they'll prove valuable as long as I'm living in this area. Getting my weekend dose of the city is now as easy as buying a couple of tickets. Very exciting.

As evening fell, I hit the Blockbuster for a movie. I'm all but committed to securing a Netflix account. Blockbuster is sorely lacking. I did manage to find the film I wanted, Untergang (a 2004 German film about the last days in the Führerbunker, as seen through the eyes of Hitler's secretary, Traudl Junge), which turned out to be very good (aside from three minor-to-moderate historical inaccuracies that someone who hadn't recently reread The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, and who wasn't an anal former Jeopardy! winner, might not have picked up). But for them not to have any Family Guy discs aside from the last season — not even the first season, monstrous sales of which were the trigger for getting the show back on the air — or the first season of Venture Bros. marked this place as no longer suitable for my erratic video needs. If I can justify the monthly outlay against the films I actually want to see (and there are a lot; I've shaded my theatergoing way back in the past 18 months, because it's seemingly still illegal to shoot movie-house cellphone users in the back of the head), I'll sign up.

So that gets us to today. The three days of next week's work week will be, er, interesting. I am taking it one task at a time; I just need to complete the work that had me frustrated on Friday, and then I'll just assist my boss in anything I can do . . . assuming, of course, she can extricate herself from the year-end thing she's been tangling with reluctantly, instead of the December issue. I don't have any significant holiday travel to worry about next weekend, just cleaning and party planning. Assuming the art director doesn't go after the managing editor — who is scheduled to be up here tomorrow and Tuesday — because of the art swap. Then you might hear about my office on the news.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Finally, a Simpsons Reference Even I Don't Get

LAST NIGHT ON The Simpsons, Bart made a reference to something called "crumping" as a way to win back the attention of his classmates, who now found the apparently orphaned Milhouse cool. (I'm spoiling nothing because it was an otherwise crappy episode.) Bart then started some sort of urban-style dancing of the You Got Served/"You Got F'd in the A" type. This failed to sway the other kids, whereupon Marge crows, "I'll crump with ya, Bart!" Whereupon Marge began doing the same dance.

For the first time in 18 years of watching the show, I had no fucking idea what they were talking about.

I thought maybe this had some connection to crunk, which I do know about (yet another sub-sub-genre of rap now immortalized by a couple of Dave Chapelle bits). Other than that, and the use of crump as an onomatopoetic noun in World War I for heavy artillery, I was drawing a complete blank.

I had to go online to unwrap this mystery. There, I learned that it's called krumping, and that it's indeed a form of dancing descended from breakdancing. How many other viewers got this reference, I have no idea. Not a moment destined to enter the long and varied halls of heavily quoted Simpsons moments, I'll warrant.

Still made me feel just a little old, though.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

First-Name Basis

DURING SNIPPETS OF THE Democratic presidential contenders' debates, I've heard some of the candidates refer to one another by their first names. I particularly recall Senators Obama and Clinton doing this. This rubs me the wrong way.

Maybe they're being collegial, seeing as they hail from the same legislature. Maybe Obama is following the lead of just about half the media in referring to Clinton as "Hillary," perhaps to distinguish her from former President Clinton.

I don't recall if Senators Chris Dodd, Joe Biden, or John Edwards have done the same, either with the two senators previously mentioned or among themselves. What I do recall is how Senator Bob Dole, while running for president in 1996, got his hackles up with President Clinton when the incumbent referred to him as "Bob" during a debate. The irascible veteran pointed out how he was extending Clinton the courtesy of using his official title even though Clinton had failed to do so in turn. I'm not certain whether the resurrected Christ could've beaten Clinton in that election, but that outburst fit into an existing pattern of seeming grumpiness on Dole's part, and he went on to pimp for Viagra and Pepsi instead of moving from the Watergate to the White House. So perhaps the greater point Dole was making got lost.

I know legislators employ the "distinguished gentleman/lady" flourish while addressing one another while in chamber. I don't see why they can't apply the same high tone to their debates. It hits me in the same decorum nerve as kids who call their parents by their first names, or the concept of addressing my friends' parents as anyone but "Mr./Mrs. [X]." In a campaign that no doubt will see new lows of dirty tricks and attack ads, in which, according to NPR, a billion dollars will be spent to boost one of these clowns into the Big Seat, it's a little sad to see one of the old social graces of Washington life be cast aside.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Record Fair Part II: Normal Vital Signs

I AM HAPPY TO report that I did not die in my sleep Saturday night. Far from it. I in fact woke up on time, at 5:00 a.m. for my second round of volunteer shifts at the WFMU Record and CD Fair. The extra hour of slumber did a lot of good in helping my feet, which were sore from the miles of walking I did around the Metropolitan Pavilion. Those miles and the aches were both for a good cause, one I was sad to have cut short when I left Saturday with a racing heartbeat and a couple of other frightening symptoms that hit out of the blue.

Said symptoms were absent as I got myself cleaned up and out the door Sunday morning. My pulse was still as unremarkable as it was when I had gone to bed the night before. With the thought that caffeine overdose actually was the cause of the palpitations, I started the day with a simple can of Diet Coke and a bagel with cream cheese, and I resolved not to repeat my cholesterol-bomb of a breakfast when I got to the venue. I knew I'd be sampling the Two Boots Pizza later that day anyway, as well as a few Oreos from the A/V Lounge, so the junk food would come in its own time. No sense in pushing things.

Sunday proved to be a full day, if my heart didn't start driving me nuts again. Another security shift until 10 or so, then working the ticket booth for the opening rush through lunch. From there, I actually didn't recall what I had scheduled next. All I knew is that I was eager to put in a full day of helping out my favorite radio station and make up the couple of hours I had lost by leaving early Saturday. I had flirted with sticking around Sunday night to help the station staff with breaking down and loading out their gear. I figured I'd play it by ear.

One thing I love about volunteering for WFMU is that no matter whom you work with on various station tasks, you've got something in common: a love for fine radio. I've nearly always found this was a gateway to finding interesting folks with whom to chat on topics in addition to the freeform station of the nation. My partner at the ticket both on Sunday was a man who'd recently completed computer science schooling and was now doing layout on a local Ukrainian newspaper. This sparked a discussion of Quark, InDesign, the idiosyncracies of editors, and the like. I shared a good conversation, if not a similar design background, with the guy with whom I worked at the flexi-disc museum.

An additional aspect of working a public venue like this was the chance to meet listeners, collectors, and flat-out fans of hawt rekkids. Many folks who examined the stunning collection of flexi-discs commented on their own interest in the format, the records they'd had either as children or collectors, and the specifics of some of the rarer or stranger finds hanging on the wall. Two people actually came by to offer their own discs to the curator, MAC, who hosts WFMU's Antique Phonograph Hour. MAC himself came by late in the day to begin disassembling the discs and to not only thank me and the other volunteer for keeping watch, but to offer us a beer from the concession stand! This is typical of the FMU staff and DJs who work the fair: They are tremendously grateful for the work the volunteers put in to make this a success. I can report that we volunteers are in turn grateful for the staff for giving us a chance to help keep the station we love on the air.

From the ticket booth, I moved to the A/V Lounge, to make free coffee for the slow-awakening record fair attendees and to screen films for folks who might want to take a break from the rush of having so many wonderful opportunities to trade greenbacks for vinyl. I've worked the Lounge before, and it's been a real education for me, as I've mentioned before. This time around, we had You're Gonna Miss Me, a chilling documentary about stricken psych-rock genius Roky Erickson, which was produced by the same company that released the beautiful and heartbreaking Nomi Song. I caught part of a Neil Young documentary as well before I had to start my next shift. I only got as far as the early 80s, when Young released Trans, a Krautrock/Kraftwerk-inspired disc that was about as far from something like Freedom or Harvest as you can imagine. (FMU used to run a compilation disc of videos between feature films in the Lounge, which contained a blistering rendition of "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)" done about 50% faster than usual with Devo on backing instros and vocals. One of the most fiery performances I've ever seen.) I would have liked to hear "Keep On Rockin' in the Free World," a sonic boot in the balls of the Reagan/Bush era that has lost none of its nutcrunching impact since its release.

Throughout the day, from the uneventful drive in, across my shifts, I had no physical problems at all. Even my feet were hanging in there after my security shift and a couple of hours sitting on a stool while selling tickets. The previous day's symptoms seemed like an extended, overlaid dream. So when DJ and volunteer director Scott asked if I could help out with load-out, I said yes, as long as I could grab a half hour beforehand to get some food to pull my Popeye act and refuel.

This I did. At 6:30, I slid out to Sixth Avenue for a Chicago Burger at New York Burger Co. (another side benefit, in addition to the Chipotle next door, of attending SVA). The first "early" night of Standard Time was falling, the air was cool, a vendor was clearing his tables of paperbacks at the end of his workday, and the streets were alive with New Yorkers heading to a thousand different errands. I felt a strong pang of longing. I hadn't been in the city since my classes wrapped up, and even then, not at night, as I had occasionally been while still working there. I looked up at the old architecture, the office buildings that had seen a multitude of thriving and dying businesses over their lifetimes; the brownstones and apartment blocks perched over bodegas and bars; folks walking dogs, heading to dinner or delivering it via cycle; or just enjoying a mid-autumn night before the work week began. As much trouble as it sometimes was to get in and out of Manhattan, as much as I love my current commute, and as little as that job held for me even the day before I was told I'd have to leave, losing daily access to NYC remains my only lasting regret of the layoff. But at least I have events like the WFMU Record Fair to pull me back in for a day with Big Apple sidewalks under my feet.

Re-energized as much by the city as the food, I returned to the Pavilion. Some kind volunteer, or perhaps the station's staff, had bought several pies for those who made the show run, and I grabbed a sweet, drippy slice of blueberry. I then spent the last hour of my day there disassembling, removing, and packing FMU's gear as best I could. Not being as practiced a hand at the ritual, I put myself at the disposal of anyone who seemed to need a second pair of hands.

By 8:00, I was finally feeling tired. I bade everyone a fond farewell and motored home, still sound of heart, if feeling a little heartache for leaving behind the night-cloaked streets of the city. They're only a train ride away, especially now that the line I used to take during the week has begun weekend service.

Aside from wearing sneakers on Monday to give my feet an easier return to office footwear, I suffered no ill effects the next day. I still stand by my too-much-caffeine theory for Saturday's odd cardiac hilarity. Should it recur, I'll take off for the doc like a shot. For now, I'm looking forward to this and the next few weeks, when FMU DJs begin playing their Record Fair finds, and weird and wonderful music will waft from my speakers and headphones like the rich scent of fertile, freshly turned earth.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Picture Discs, Palpitations, and Petty Theft

I JUST HAD A day that went from fun to frightening to ridiculous. At least I get another hour of sleep tonight to put it past me.

Today was my first of two days of volunteer work at the WFMU Record and CD Fair. I had booked just about the entire day, beginning with the earliest shift, the security patrol. Record dealers are admitted at 7 a.m. on the Saturday and Sunday of the fair to set up their displays in the 3 hours preceding general admission. At night, the hall is locked up, so dealers leave their wares on the tables, to avoid dragging them back home, to storage rentals, or motel rooms (we get dealers from up and down the Eastern Seaboard). However, the FMU staff realized not so long after starting the fair that, if left unwatched, early-arriving dealers will uncover their fellow dealers' record crates and burrow through them like packs of curious primates. With records worth up to three figures in some of these crates, theft is a very real worry.

So the early-Saturday and early-Sunday security volunteer shift was born. My job today (and tomorrow, if I make it in) was to walk the Metropolitan Pavilion floor while the record dealers carted in their gear; to ensure that nobody's crates were rifled through unless that table's dealer was present; and to ensure that anyone walking around was wearing either a WFMU volunteer sticker or a dealer badge, was an FMU staffer, or worked for the Metro Pavilion. (Oh, and also to discipline the occasional indoor smoker.)

I therefore arose today at 5:00 for my drive into Chelsea. I got out of the house at ten to six, but I was a little worried about a report of the 495 helix being closed down for work and traffic to NYC being routed onto local streets. This still left the Holland Tunnel as an alternative to the Lincoln, which — after spotting a huge mass of cars stopped on 495 after getting off of 3 — I reached via the back route through a just-awakening Union City. I still hit the fair at just after 7:00, a bagel with cream cheese, a Diet Coke, and half a Trader Joe's green drink (one of those Naked/Bolthouse Farms clones) under my belt.

The security shift went very smoothly. Nearly all the dealers were wearing their badges, and I didn't have to guide anyone away from untended crates. The only knock is that it's a little tiring, because one is walking around more or less constantly for 2½ hours. I did grab a break at 9:00 for my annual descent into misguided food, a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich with coffee. Where would NYC be without this delicious but deadly breakfast combo? I never eat this sort of thing except at the Record Fair. The FMU Special Events Coordinator, Mike, not only joined me in this but sprung for it like the mensch that he is. This sort of camaraderie is what erases the fatigue of a slow-motion marathon around the joint as the dealers attack their fellows' crates with pirahña-like ferocity.

As admission time neared, I switched over to cash box duty at the ticket booth. I deliberately chose a second shift that would allow me to sit for a while and give my dogs a rest. The Record Fair is very popular among the collecting community, and due to sympathetic mentions in the NYC area news, and our ads in the Voice and the New York Press (complete with discount admission coupon), our casual foot traffic is thick. So when we threw open the doors, a mass of cold, vinyl-hungry folks was already lined up down the block. The swift blur of making change for what felt like hundreds of music lovers was a sharp contrast to my quiet pacing around the hall some hours before.

One o'clock rolled around surprisingly swiftly, and I was relieved shortly before the hour to take on my third shift, at the WFMU dollar-record tables. FMU has three main points of sale at the fair: cheapo cutout vinyl at a buck a record, more expensive commercial or collectible records and CDs, and station-branded items from the prize lists of past fundraising Marathons. All proceeds from these sales directly fund WFMU (as does the admission fee). Before reaching my post, I hooked into the Audiovisual Lounge (where we show movies for tired shoppers) to grab some free coffee and an Oreo. I wasn't lunch hungry just yet, but I wanted to get my next daily dose of caffeine on schedule.

The dollar record crates were seething with people flipping through them, half of them dealers, occasionally yanking out an album to inspect the track listing or the grooves themselves, then either sliding it back in to flip through some more or placing them on growing piles of must-haves. Space was tight among the crates, with folks queuing up behind the searchers, anxiously seeing their chance to belly up and mine out a hidden treasure. As these quests tended to take some time, I was actually far less busy here than at the front door, so I finally decided to skip out and grab lunch. Two Boots Pizza has the food concession at the fair, but to my discontent they were out of plain slices. I recalled the proximity of a Chipotle Fresh Mexican joint, so out I went with visions of lime-spiced chips and a steak burrito dancing in my head. These I got, along with a Diet Coke.

About an hour after downing this, I noticed my pulse was up. I could feel it in my lips and chest. It felt like I had just finished some moderate exercise. I found this odd, then alarming after it didn't settle down for several minutes. I excused myself from my post and took my pulse with some difficulty (a nurse I'm not). Somewhere around 90. I finished out my shift, then wandered over to Volunteer Director Scott to see if he still needed anyone for the final shift of the day. He said they could use a second person to watch over the exhibit of flexi-discs we had in one corner (you know those plastic records you used to get in magazines or on cereal boxes? Imagine these in every size, color, and product-shilling capacity across something like 120 square feet of wall.). I agreed, figuring this spell of tachycardia would either pass or not, and that I could leave early if so.

A brief pair of flashbacks. That morning, when I got out of my car in Chelsea, I did the usual pocket-pat many men do to ensure we have our gear. My keys, cellphone, and dough were present, but I had left my wallet at home. I had driven all the way into NYC without my license, to say nothing of my healthcare cards, AAA ID, or my credit or ATM cards. I had a couple of hundred in cash, so life in Manhattan or return therefrom wouldn't be hindered by being broke. But unless you've done this, you can't imagine how naked I felt for a moment.

Now keep in mind, I also parked quite close to the entrance of the hall, the streets being fairly uncluttered save for some digging down the street. My parking luck calls to mind George Costanza's "fortune" at finding a spot right in front of the hospital, only to have a jumper crash through the roof of his car. In my case, after I heard a number of emergency vehicles close to the hall, I wandered outside to see my car surrounded by cones and blocked in by Office of Emergency Management and Con Ed trucks, and a rush of water flowing under my vehicle and down the street. According to my Web research, the contractor struck a water main. I checked on my car a couple of times in the next hour, and when I watched the various trucks move out of the way to let another trapped car escape, and they gratefully let me back my car into the space thus vacated, I relaxed a little . . . until I tried to restart the car to adjust it again and the key wouldn't turn in the lock. I tried it a couple of times, then figured, between my stint at the fair, the time the city agencies would need to fix the leak, and the need to get back in to keep working the door, I wasn't going anywhere at the moment, I decided not to think about it.

Or did I? Between my wallet being a state away, and my car possibly being stuck, I already may have been on edge.

Not that I felt it for the bulk of the day. Which is why, when I took a seat next to the flexi-disc museum, and felt very conscious of my breathing, and a fullness in my chest, in addition to the continuing tachycardia, I started to worry. Naturally, like anyone near middle age with a spare tire, I began ticking off the symptoms of heart attacks. No pain in my chest, just that fullness. No sweating or chills. No pain anywhere else, especially not radiating through my jaw or arms. Of course, merely thinking about this list was making me jumpier, and I didn't need to find a vessel to know that my heart was still thumping away.

There was an alternative. Panic attacks run in my family. Though I don't believe the syndrome was popularly called "panic disorder" in the 1980s as much as it is today, both my mother and her father were treated for the symptoms I was experiencing. Their cases were much more severe, and they both received tranquilizer prescriptions . . . but not before both of them thought they were having heart attacks and had to wear tape-recorder-sized heart monitors to screen out possible cardiac causes.

I took a couple of breaks to air out my head in the chill November afternoon. Both times, I felt a little less panicky, though my pulse rate didn't drop much. I could breathe more easily, and my palms stopped the bit of sweating they were doing. I wasn't dizzy or nauseated or anything, and I didn't have the sort of sense of impending doom that both panic-disorder and infarct victims report.

What I was now consciously nervous about was my health cards being a state away and the reaction my parents might have to calling home about this. The license I was willing to gamble on not being pulled over while returning home, the money cards I didn't give a shit about, but the health card was quite different. In my slow slide into middle age, I've taken to bringing my health card with my driver's license to the gym. It's a second form of ID at minimum, and it reduces possible hassles at the hospital, to say nothing of its billing department. After hearing the process of determining a patient's insurance status as a wallet autopsy, I need that card to bypass red tape for me when I can't do it myself.

As for my parents, especially my still panic-vulnerable mother . . . all I'll say is that when my father's had to go into the hospital now and again, she's been a nervous wreck. The reaction to my admission might be a second admission that night. Not that I'd keep myself out of the hospital for that reason, but it would be something else weighing on me while riding in an ambulance or sitting in the ER.

The symptoms returned both times I resumed my duties, passing through thick masses of shoppers, dealers, and taggers-along in an increasingly hot and loud event hall. By 5:30, I decided to terminate this final, optional shift. I checked in with FMU staff (not giving the exact reasons why) and went straight to Duane Reade for a bottle of St. Joseph's baby aspirin. I flashed back to childhood sick days as I chewed up and dry-swallowed two on the return walk to the car. If this was the Big One, I at least wanted to open my vessels up just a bit before it hit in full force.

My condition was lessening by the time I reached my car, which was now unblocked. The key turned easily in the lock this time. I eased past the watery wound in the street, and, after consulting traffic radio, proceeded directly to the Lincoln Tunnel, Jersey, and home. My heartbeat, respiration, and chest pressure resolved themselves by the time I was through the tunnel, replaced by far more reasonable tiredness (from the early waking time, the dearth of sleep from the previous week, and the aftereffect of so much goddamn adrenaline in my system).

The ride back to my apartment took just under an hour, not too bad for that time of night. I felt for a pulse when I got out of the car, and took my difficulty in even locating it as a good sign. My lungs filled easily with refreshing autumn-night air. I wasn't dizzy, in pain, or sensing impending doom. Truthfully, I was beginning to wonder what the hell had gotten into me. I've been in big crowds — casinos, sports stadiums, packed trains, Lollapalooza — without panic before.

Could it have been the two coffees? I don't drink much more than a cup every 6 to 8 weeks or so. My usual caffeine dose is three cans of Diet Coke a day, at 34 or so mg of caffeine per can. Between 6 a.m. and 2 p.m., I had had probably about 30 oz. of coffee, containing around 500 mg, in addition to a 20-oz. Diet Coke in the morning and a large Chipotle cup of the shit with lunch. My symptoms were not dissimilar to those of what the dubious slough of Wikipedia dubs caffeine intoxication.

Either way, I was feeling much better, if concerned, as I entered my building's vestibule. I looked instinctively for mail and any packages, especially as I anticipated a replacement box of dishwashing soap from the folks at Seventh Generation.

What I found was a shipping box, opened, lined with packing material, from Seventh Generation, with my name as addressee.

This failed to register for a minute, then I picked up the nearly empty box, reinspected it, and came to the inescapable conclusion that someone had stolen my dishwashing soap. Even setting aside the possibility that the thief had no idea what Seventh Generation was, you'd think they would have left the box there upon discovering that the contents had no value beyond the kitchen, that it wasn't a blank hard drive or car stereo. No. They took it anyway.

The day had taken a hard turn into the ludicrous. But at least I wasn't dying, or at least not yet.

I knocked on the door of the resident manager to begin the reporting procedure. No reply. With the town municipal building in eyesight of my complex, I saw no reason not to file the police report right then. Hell, mail tampering is a Federal crime. So it was that I spent the next 15 minutes or so reporting the theft of my dishwashing soap.

As I suspected, there was little the police could immediately do. I figured this was most useful in getting the act on record, or adding it to an existing record, so a pattern would develop of any thefts in the building. Years ago, some fucking nutcase stole dozens of parcels over time from the vestibule. Rumor and truth may be mingling in my memory, but I recall reading a blotter report in the local paper describing the cops finding no utilities and lots of garbage in the perp's apartment, in addition to a dead letter office's worth of jacked FedEx and UPS boxes. But this person and our complex parted permanently thereafter.

The vestibule where parcels are dropped is not being a locked door. This could have been done by a passerby instead of a resident. After I heard about the nutcase, I had all Amazon and other gear sent to my workplace or my parents' house. Foolishly, I thought a box from Seventh Generation, marked as such obviously or not, that made sifty noises when inverted, would be safe. I was wrong.

With the theft on record, I returned home, still feeling good, not even feeling my blood pressure rise as something this intrusive and thoughtless might otherwise evoke, and tried the resident manager again. Nothing; no light in the peephole or from under the door. I will try again tomorrow and follow up by contacting the management company directly. The vestibule has a camera, which is rumored not to be hooked up to anything (it was billed as being closed circuit and accessible through our TVs, so the typically elderly residents here could scope callers, but this was bullshit), so either someone knew this and stole my soap anyway, or somehow didn't see it and was possibly captured on videotape. I should call the cops tomorrow to note the presence of the camera, if there's any chance this was recorded. I may have been out some soap, but the last thief got someone's golf club, not a cheap item. With the holidays coming, so will all manner of gifts, and if these packages don't arrive with a signature due, who knows how many will go missing?

So that's my day. I reported the same info to FedEx, probably only to the effect of getting Seventh Generation a refund on their postage and maybe a settlement claim (it wasn't their fault at all, and not really FedEx's fault, that this package was intercepted). I spent a little time on WebMD checking panic and MI symptoms and generally feeling asymptomatic, if, as I said, somewhat tired. That "somewhat" has become "very," and I will head to bed soon. I've rested my tender feet and had a protein shake with a banana, a cup of frozen blueberries, the rest of the green drink, and a scoop of whey, just to have something simple and healthful on my stomach, and it's been digesting without controversy while I've been writing.

If I feel jumpy at all when I awaken, I will regretfully call and email the gang at FMU to let them know why I've opted out. Nothing, not even the freeform station of the nation, is more important than my cardiac health. If I go, and there is any recurrence at all, I will jet. (My wallet is already under my keys so it doesn't stay behind tomorrow, whether I go to Chelsea or Valley Hospital.) I am very much looking forward to a longer sleep tonight, but even more to waking up tomorrow and setting the bizarre physiological and criminal-justice events of today completely behind me. I'll settle just for the waking-up part.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Calm Before the Record Fair Storm

BY THIS TIME TOMORROW, I will be finishing one of my two days' commitment to volunteer at the WFMU Record and CD Fair, possibly quite tired, but most likely quite happy. As in recent years, I'll be pitching in to help the radio station raise money at this event, one of the two major ways it raises money to keep independent, listener-supported music on the air and the Net. It will be a fun weekend, but a long one, and I'm just a little afraid that by Sunday night, I'm gonna feel like I didn't have any time to myself. Both of my groups of shifts start at 7:00 a.m., so I've got to drag my carcass out of bed at around 5:00 to get ready and down to Chelsea. Heading off now will aid that quest, as will hitting the hay at a reasonable hour on Saturday night, when I eventually escape from New York (har). The past couple of days were more sleep deprived than usual, particularly last night, though for the good cause of winning some poker money. Money can't buy sleep, though, and I am going to turn in early to recover some of my lost slumber. No sense trying to drive into New York City and pirouetting off the 495 helix while in a swoon.